‘THE DONALD,’ at a theater near you


March 28, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


Why is “The Donald” popular? This one sentence tells us why. When the media, and that includes some of my colleagues, enables a showman, a magician, an entertainer, then the person becomes all of that and more so. Trump, the likely Republican Party presidential candidate for God’s sake, was re-crafted by the tabloids and supermarket sheets and then the big boys. Lights, camera, action. All the while, as momentum has built, few have asked “Why this man?”

“The Donald,” not long ago a casino operator, a TV reality host, a New York City commercial deal maker, a “I think I can, I think I can” fellow, greatly boosts media rankings and fills the cash bucket. One hundred serious running mates with earned credentials, concrete proposals and solutions for a nation lost because the lights went out long ago in D.C., could not have gotten press attention. It’s far more sound-bite interesting to focus on an unusual hair style than on who can best handle the red nuclear button.

Where are the journalistic questions for The Donald? This man, certainly savvy in the art of the deal, expected interrogation. Who runs for the highest political office in the land, the world, without being asked “why?” But as soon as the media turned the strobes and videographer lights on Trump and left shadows on the other candidates, The Donald knew he didn’t have to answer anything. Instead, throw out the citizen protester, put the light on him, and make the crowd cheer. And the questions go unanswered.

The media has not been serious, not often enough anyway. Not deeply enough. Not in enough credible newspapers still being published. Not on TV news programs that are no longer Walter Cronkite but are entertainment shows.

Instead, a few serious questions pop up on Facebook, Twitter, in other social media, but also the inane. Short words, short sentences, word bites where once there was thoughtful treatise. The Donald answers in like kind, say in reference to a candidate’s wife: “I’ll spill the beans (on her).” In the time it took to write that sentence, how many more middle-class jobs were lost? How many more foreclosures? How much more lead in the water? How many millions donated in hidden political contribution for favors yet to be paid?

The Donald gets free publicity, billions from media fascinated by entertainment, not substance. He didn’t have to spend a dime. Could Abe Lincoln compete with Trump?

Every showman from P.T. Barnum on, and that includes the devil’s own like Hitler, knew that you tell the people just so much. You hit the emotional buttons: “The present government is failing you.” (How? why? when? No details.) “There is no national pride. No chicken in most pots. Law and disorder. Those immigrants are taking your soup, your future. The shiftless are wasting your taxes.” Just enough “fact,” and that distorted, is offered. The crowd, with the best seats for the faithful, begin their chant. “Yes, yes, yes!” And the showman raises his hands and implores, “I can’t hear you! Blow the ceiling off!” So the crowd has its orgasm, but the new “leader” leaves the most satisfied.

It’s an old routine, but it’s not slapstick vaudeville. It is the race for the presidency of the most influential nation in the world, a country that is supposed to be a continuing experiment in democracy, one that constantly is to recognize its faults, its prejudices, its inequality, and the people then move to correct, to educate themselves, to mature further.

The Donald wants to halt the train, clear the tracks of what only he will decide as undesirable and then move on to the station. But who will be chosen to go with him? And will there be enough gold plumbing for all?

This all sounds like a bad movie. Title it “The Donald.”

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.




March 21, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

They buried Risa last week, a woman of just 57 years, 30 or so homeless. A strongly independent individual, her cancer came quickly and thoroughly, but it could not easily quiet her voice. That was a fight.
We at the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program in Spring Valley, N.Y., most especially the women who ladle out the hot soup, prepare the sandwiches and offer donated and bought items to those who come daily, knew Risa by her arrival. Articulate, she was also of determined opinion. She said what was on her mind, usually politely but firmly. A presence, surely.
It seemed that her choice was to live on the streets. That may be easy to dismiss for some of us. “Get a job.” “Call Social Services.” “Go home to family.” These are easy sentences, but there are not in the homeless vocabulary. They may try those words, but somehow, and it is an easy somehow, things fall apart. For some, mental illness, for others, addiction, and for so many, the fierce, accumulated, defensive independence that comes from living “outside,” under a bridge, in a spot all your own. And on your own. Your own boss. Independence donned as if an overcoat.
While there is not one among the homeless who would refuse a safe, private, heated, lit place, there is nobility in refusal, in foregoing any government-run, community-style, unsafe shelter that is too often akin to hell in its dismissive, costly bureaucracy. It’s often the one defiant choice the homeless can make. It is a dignity of sorts.
Risa took advantage of what was offered — the breakfast program, the annual Christmas dinner of the First Baptist Church in Spring Valley (though she was born a Jew) and Helping Hands and Safe Haven, the nonprofit overnight sheltering that despite being underfunded, manages to operate in donated church and synagogue space for the cold months.
Risa could be angry, and aren’t we all at times? You could hear it in her voice, especially on a bad day. She could and did make her self known. And how many of us do not? “I am me” must be said.
When Risa was diagnosed some months ago, the greatest of her dignity came to pass, for she showed courage in her acceptance. We don’t all do that. Her final time, in a caring hospice, visited by her friends of the street and the ladies who served her food and gave her clothing, brought the increasing light of a door opening to a big, luxurious room — more than that, a mansion and its gardens where she would no longer be homeless, nor troubled by anything. Down here, we will miss her presence, her voice.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced. 



March 14, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


One good-natured joke as we approach St. Patrick’s Day is that if you want to read in Heaven, saddle up to an Irishman or woman for the titles, but if you wish to concentrate, hide behind a tree, for the wee leprechauns in the Irish soul will have your mentor gabbing and gabbing and telling jokes. Now, if you have green in yourself as well, you can always write a tale about it all.

The really wonderful thing about America is its diversity and what each group, and the morphed individual, offers. Included in this diversity are the only original inhabitants, the Native Americans. All the rest of us technically hold Green Cards or are the descendants of those forced into slavery.

Our diversity continues into the country’s fourth century, for the nation has never been a true melting pot, except where cultures have blended through marriage, close neighborhoods and succeeding generations that are U.S.-born. Ethnic traditions thrive even 100 or so years after the first immigrant ancestor in a particular family arrives, and that is to the good since who wants everyone to be the same, and there is much to learn from cultures we do not know firsthand.

That is, of course, if prejudice is overcome, if there is room at the table for all. Another word for prejudice — “preconceived opinion” — is ignorance. The irony is that some of the so-called “educated” among us cash in on prejudice by stewing a pot of bubbling fear over lost jobs, social service costs, discontent, all societal ills, jealously and the special type of ignorance that is socially learned. The rabble-rousers make mischief for their own ends and well use crowd psychology to do so. History is full of such example. Watch the faces at Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies or in “Triumph of the Will,” his mesmerizing propaganda film. Pied pipers walking straight to hell. (Hmm … remove a particular vowel and consonant from that first film title word and you get? …)

Now a fine day for all the good Irish coming up March 17, my late, sainted Irish mom’s birthday, you see. “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back.” And another Irish blessing, meant for all of us, green or not: “… and bless each door that opens wide to stranger as to kin. …” Room at the table, you see, like upstairs in Heaven, reading a book with an Irishman or not.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via  ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.  


March 7, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


In my youth, in Spring Valley, N.Y., we school kids were all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and at Christmas time, we sang songs for both the holiday and Hanukkah. But beyond these events, there was no one pointing to another and saying, “Here’s the Italian kid,” or asking “What are you?” At least my time in the 1950s never had us believing we were anything but Valleyites in a community where most of our parents and grandparents were also from the village, had gone to the same schools, etc. Heck, we didn’t even think of ourselves as New Yorkers.

None of us thought about being American either, since that was taken for granted. We didn’t feel a need to shout it. The few kids who were immigrants were American to us as well, or at least we didn’t make an issue about it. They were here. They were American. It was just a different time, place, I suppose.

Now some decades later, and here I am thinking about genealogy, probably because I am about to visit my second son Andrew and his wife Patricia and the two grandkids, all in Germany because my daughter in law is an Army doctor posted there. Reluctant traveler though I am, I want to see the family, and it seems the pull of an ancestral land is getting stronger.

Like all of us except our Native Americans, to whom we owe so much (and the debt is yet to be paid), my forebears came from other lands. The surname is Prussian, but the family area that my ancestors left in 1848 or so has been in German, Russian and Polish hands, so I probably have those  DNA in me, too. My mother was of almost pure Irish descent, though her father was English with possible Irish parents.

The trip to Germany is a connection  to part of my family history. It is not a tracing I thought of when I was a teen when I could have asked living relatives about the past. Most of the Gunther family photographs from the later 1800s have disappeared in various moves, and my mother had none, being orphaned by her mom’s passing at age 32 and subsequent separation from her father.

It is a human thing to feel some pride that you are going to visit one of the lands of your ancestors, though in this case Germany’s history — its Nazi times and all that horror — cannot be dismissed. But I will see  a country far different, and there was much in its past to be proud of, of course.

While I wish I had asked questions about genealogy when I could still speak to now-gone family, it was a blessing in the years at the South Main Street, North Main Street and other Valley schools that none of us thought we were anything but Valleyites, and by extension Americans. No rah-rah, no flag-waving, just acceptance. It was a gift, that time.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com